Al Holm and John Blatteau Do The Right Thing!

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Before I explain that headline, a little background is needed.

In a previous posting I worried that architectural preference of young designers and clients is reverting to 1960s Modernism. As if to confirm my worst fears, the next week the New York Times ran a big article touting how two women have just custom-built a new bed & breakfast inn in 1960s Modernist style.

Well before the Times ran that story, my ongoing concern had been that traditional architecture in general, and Classicism in particular, is becoming boring to people in their 20s. Rejecting Modernism in favor of Classicism may have been edgy and revolutionary in 1980; today the reverse is true. Our culture has a relentless appetite for novelty, and after several decades of ascendancy, traditionalism now seems to be suffering from over-exposure.

It’s clear that in order to get younger designers and clients interested in classic architecture once again, we have to make the case for traditionalism in new ways. It’s incumbent on those of us who believe Classicism embodies humanist values that are important for the future to “do the right thing” and reach out to the next generation.

I came across one example of “doing the right thing” quite by accident – when giving a talk on this topic at a dinner of the Philadelphia chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America. After my remarks, Alvin Holm, AIA, came up to me and exclaimed, “Hey Clem, John and I are already doing that!” And Al went on to explain how, for over a dozen years, he and fellow architect John Blatteau have been teaching a course at Moore College of Art & Design that focuses on drawing the Classical orders.

According to Al, the students are initially baffled by the course, because up to that point in their education the focus has been on “creativity” and “originality.” To suddenly come upon a curriculum that stresses rules and precedent is quite unsettling. However, about halfway through the first project, Al declares, student doubt morphs into enthusiasm as they find the classical system allows them to create designs of sophistication and complexity that they thought were beyond their abilities. Students discover empowerment in the discipline of the classical method.

That encounter reminded me that Al Holm has been doing pro bono teaching and outreach for over three decades – and that the impact of his teaching has been far-reaching. For example, he created a course on “Drawing the Orders” for Classical America in the 1980s that helped inspire a couple of young architects to found the Institute of Classical Architecture. The organization that evolved from that seminal moment now has an ambitious education program in traditional and Classical architecture, put together under the direction of Michael Gormley, vice president of education at ICA&CA.

You can get more details on the continuing education program at the ICA&CA website.

So thank you Al Holm and John Blatteau for doing the right thing. Let’s hope that lots more of our colleagues follow your example.